Then there was the letter from my step-mother. A letter explaining, well supposedly everything. I’m not convinced it can explain much at all really.
I should explain. It will be long, and I’m sorry.
My father died on May 1, 1998. In a town about an hour away from Edmonton, where I lived. I found out he died in July of 1998. He didn’t want me at his funeral. He didn’t want me to know he died until everything was sorted out. It was all over and done for everyone when I found out at the start of July, 1998.
The letter explains this. Three pages of neat text.
It’s hard to know where to start this. Maybe the letter isn’t the place. The letter comes in the middle of everything, and while the letter is painful, the hurt starts from way before. Alice in Wonderland insists that you should start at the beginning, carry through the middle and end at the end.
But, what’s the end? You might have said that the end was in 1998, when my father died. Except that it’s 2013, and I was in a hotel in Vancouver, watching the rain stream down my windows, overlooking the wharf, and I knew 1998 wasn’t the end, and this blue file folder with the letter made me feel like it still hasn’t ended. The muteness of the last week as I struggled tells me it hasn’t ended.
So, where might the beginning be? That is even harder. Perhaps it is in the early 1950s, when my grandmother left my grandfather, leaving behind 2 children. Perhaps it is further along in the 1950s, when my grandfather married a woman who was 6 years older than my father. Perhaps it is after than that – when my father married his first wife. Perhaps even later than that – when my father married my mother, around 1976. Maybe the beginning was in 1978, when I was born. You would think it should have started at my birth, but looking back, it seems as if the story started so much before me, and I sort of came along into the middle of it – cast unwillingly into a play filled with hurting people banging into each other.
Maybe, it starts later, in 1988 when my parents divorced, or after that, in about 1993, when my father sent me letters, and I didn’t answer him. There are so many places it could have started – there is a middle that seems to go on and on and on, and even now is still going on.
My stepmother seemed to think, back in 1998, when she wrote this letter, that it started in 1988, when my parents started divorcing. My stepmother says hard things. Terrible things really. She calls my mother mercenary and grubbing and power hungry, and these are in fact truthful things. They are fair ways to describe my mother; accurate, if painful, ways.
She says that my father said I was my mother’s daughter, that he would have rather died alone than have me there. She says that he felt alone, that he wanted nothing to do with me. In every place in the letter, and there are several, I am referred to with her. There we are, a single horrible entity, in brackets. In her mind we are exactly the same person. In my father’s mind, we were exactly alike. He hated me. He wrote me out of his life. Said he wanted nothing to do with me. Said that he had tried when I was younger, tried again later and I wasn’t worth it.
It is true, you know. At the age of 13 or thereabouts, I did decide to not answer the two letters my father sent me. I don’t know, maybe there were more. I have two. I read them as an adult and I can hear the longing in his voice. 13 year old me? I don’t know. Maybe she was horrible and selfish. I am inclined to think that she was 13.
So, there I was. A mother who was unstable, me trying to keep some sort of peace, while trying to find myself. Slightly self absorbed, like every 13 year old. Human and frail and unable to see the longer game. Certainly so hurt by what had happened to me that I was unable to extend any sort of grace to my father. So I didn’t answer the letters. I didn’t ever tell him to never talk to me again, but I didn’t answer the letters. My mother wasn’t rushing out to buy international stamps to facilitate the answering, and would have found ways to make my life difficult if I had answered. So yes, I didn’t talk to him from the time I was about 13 until he got in touch with me when I was 18.
I met him then, and I thought it went well. Not stellar, we didn’t stay in touch and he certainly didn’t tell me he was living in Edmonton. He said that he couldn’t afford to continue paying child support, and I knew damn well what was going to happen if I went home and told my mother that I offered to let my father stop paying child support. The adult in me understands that it was never in my power to override the Court of Queen’s Bench, and that I should never have even been asked. I was still a child, caught between two warring factions. He asked if I needed the money and I said that I was going to University. He asked if I could wait to go. What was I supposed to say? It was June. University started in September. I wanted to go.
But, for these 15 years I have held on to a sort of peaceful feeling from that meeting. I have held on to the idea that my father in some way loved me, and knew I loved him. He said that he wished things had been different, and I agreed. I didn’t think he hated me. We met on a Saturday in a food court, and then later in the week at a restaurant. I thought it was ok. Not great, but for 15 years I have held on to that meeting a year before his death as the only sort of good bye I was ever going to get, the only chance I had to love my father.
We didn’t fix anything, we didn’t resolve anything, but the meeting has stayed with me, I saw him perhaps 3 times between the time I was 8 and the time he died. After we met when I was 19 he sort of disappeared from my life like he did when I was 8. If he got in touch again, it would have been on his terms, I had no way to get a hold of him. He died less than a year later.
When people asked me if I hurt that he was dead, I mostly just said that I had always hoped that maybe when I was an adult we could have some sort of relationship and I wished that chance wasn’t gone. I never dreamed it was gone because he hated me.
When I first wrote this post, last week, I was very kind to everyone involved. It’s my nature, I suppose, to try and see the best in people, to give everyone the benefit of the doubt that I would want. Finally I stopped trying to be reasonable. Instead I spent the last week as a wee small girl, trying to understand. It’s just completely not understandable.
I’ll step back. If our family has one job, it is this: When everything has fallen to shit, and it is 2 am and pouring rain, you can knock at your parent’s door, and they have to let you in. It’s a law, like gravity; a single truth like Fermat’s Last Theorem. It is the way things should be. That’s all there is to it.
When your marriage has fallen apart, when you have lost your job, when every single last person in the world hates you, and maybe they have good reason to. When you need a place that is a refuge, when you need a place to heal, you go home. In a fundamental sense, home is where our parents are. Home is where they loved you first, home is where they will always love you. Our blood can be many things to us, but it seems to me that they have a chief duty and obligation at 2 am: to open the door and let us stream water on their carpet. To find us house room and love us into standing up again.
The truth is that no parent ever did that for me. It just never happened that way. Home has never once in my life been a safe place for me. I have no home. I have, over the last 10 or so years, learned to cope with the fact that my mother hates me. I can blame it on mental illness, I can say that maybe it isn’t even her that hates me, maybe it’s just the disease, but it’s truth. My mother hates me. My mother would, if I permitted it, go out of her way to hurt me. She would cut and destroy with words and she would seem to enjoy it.
It hurts. In some deep and primordial way, cutting me into a million pieces. I think I’m lovable. I think I’m the sort of daughter most parents would be proud of. I think I’ve done reasonably well. I think I’m worth loving.
Last week I was silent, mute. Stunned, I suppose, but wounded in a way that I had forgotten anyone could hurt me. I went through this with my mother. That soul searing pain that I would never be good enough. And all last night, late at night in my bed, sobbing. I’m still not enough for a man who barely knew me.
And my parents hate me.